Archive for March, 2009

29 Mar 2009

Dumplings anyone?

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>The old town centre of Bratislava is lovely but you’ll have to take my word for it because there are no photographs to prove it. You see, the Slovakian secret police confiscated our camera. Just joking, actually it was dropped in a bowl of goulash. No seriously, someone (no names mentioned, Paul) forgot to pack the camera. The old town has lovely passages, grand promenades, brightly coloured buildings, nice squares, a tram and let’s not forget the churches. It is reminiscent of Prague, without the hordes of tourists.

Paul and I headed off for a few days of art and culture (more commonly referred to as “boozing it up”) in Bratislava, Vienna and Milan while Gill (cleverly) decided staying put in sunny Spain would be a better option.

Once you get out of downtown Bratislava, the architecture starts to get a little uglier, the lack of town planning is evident and the roads – after another harsh winter – are full of potholes. The potholes add to the whole Slovakian driving experience, which vies for the claim of “World’s Worst Drivers” along with Poland. Driving in Slovakia is like a game, the rules of which are subject to change and unknown to anyone but the Slovaks; basically you get points if you terrorise the other drivers, tailgate, don’t indicate, overtake on the inside, or worse still on the emergency shoulder. The more dangerous the driving, the more points you earn. Seatbelts, nah – what for? And the Slovaks are astute, if they see someone is from out of town, a neighbouring country, or worse still a gypsy, they do all this while yelling insults. A zero immigration policy brings out the xenophobe in every Slovak. I am colourfast but Paul seemed just a touch greyer after three days in Slovakia.

But there are lots of good things about the Slovaks. They are friendly (see exceptions above), they all speak English and they love to party. Slovakian food is delicious and hearty, suitable for the cold days we spent there. On one occasion a large oddly shaped bread loaf arrived and was placed in front of me. On closer inspection, the top of the loaf was sliced – to form a lid – and when removed revealed a delicious garlic soup served inside the hollowed out loaf. When you finish eating the soup, you just consume the bowl as well. Very practical!

Anish Kapoor’s “Shooting into the corner”

Food aside, most of the time was spent gallery hopping with Juraj. We visited the excellent boat-shaped Danubian gallery which sits on a small spit of land jutting from the Danube and currently exhibits a collective of the best contemporary Slovakian and Hungarian art. The highlight however was a large gallery in Vienna, where we happened upon Arnish Kapoor’s latest show. He has a reputation for creating interesting public art. Anish created The Cloud situated in Millennium Park, Chicago (see earlier Chicago blog entry). His latest exhibit is a “work in progress”, several rooms house changing exhibits made entirely of messy red wax. The most interesting is a theatre-sized room where a large custom made cannon is installed in the centre of room and huge-11kg globs of red wax are fired at regular intervals from the cannon into a corner of the room. It is a theatrical performance, in which a serious looking operator (not Anish, who is sitting cosily in his studio somewhere in London concocting), primes the cannon, pushes a button and then stands, arms folded, expressionless waiting for the cannon to fire. The resulting explosion and mess of red wax as it slides down the walls is the art. After each cannon fire, the audience bursts into laughter. I guess you had to be there! Check out the video here.

Danubian Gallery. Bratislava

On Milan – well what can say about Milan that you don’t already know? The people are beautiful; particularly the women and they are all dressed immaculately and fashionably — fat is definitely a dirty word. The Duomo is magnificent and the general town architecture is planned and also very beautiful. But the people are not warm and friendly like the Slovaks. They strut about purposefully, looking for the next new fashionable piece and don’t seem to have much time for a couple of travel worn Granadinos.

26 Mar 2009

Short and sweet

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Friday afternoons at Castila

Gill and Jeanne – breakfast on the terrace

In another fleeting visit Jeanne arrived on the Friday afternoon flight from London, just in time for our ritual Friday tapas in the school gardens with our fellow students. The sun was shining, the birds were chirping and the vino and cerveza flowed freely. As the day ceded to the night we all retired to a typical Spanish restaurant to continue the celebrations. And when we were all just about done, somewhat early, at around 11pm, the first of the Spaniards began arriving to fill the empty tables all around us.

We spent the weekend picnicking and walking in the mountains behind the Alhambra; eating fantastic seafood; taking in a contemporary Flamenco performance at an amazing theatre – the back wall of the stage and its main prop, being a magnificent glass window that perfectly frames the Alhambra palace at night – beautiful; and the remainder of the weekend was spent sitting on the terrace and taking the sun and watching the snow melt. The hours passed quickly with the competitive pealing of the bells from all the nearby churches – on the hour every hour – and then in between, our man in the tower performed his melodic “call to prayer” from the mosque adjacent our house.

And before we knew it, we were saying our goodbyes to Jeanne at the bus stop …. and sauntering off to school, practicing our verbs (Spanish) along the way.

18 Mar 2009

Spring has finally arrived

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In blossom – mosque tower in rear

The cherry tree in our garden has just come into flower and the temperatures are hovering up the around the 20 degree mark, reaching as high as 31 on the weekend.

The snow is melting faster than you can say “otra vino tinto, por favor” and it is a nice time of year to be hanging in Granada.

17 Mar 2009

Another tough day at the office

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It’s all downhill from here.

It was another tough day; the sun was beating down as it had for the last two weeks solid and winter is but a distant memory. Snowboard or School – the decision was easy. No time for blogging!

10 Mar 2009

On the prowl for Penelope

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The Barcelonans are a happy lot, always smiling, and why wouldn’t they be; the sun shines every day, or at least it did for our visit; the streets are filled with lots of wacky art and interesting architecture and everyone seems to be having a good time. Barcelona is very euro-chic, unlike Granada which clutches to its Andalucian origins and refuses to become a true European city – Essentially you can get a decent Japanese meal in Barcelona and not every dish is a derivative of chorizo or potatoes.
Woody Allen would probably like to take credit for Barcelona being the tourist mecca it is – all hoping (salivating) to catch a glimpse of Penelope no doubt – but he can’t because Gaudi single-handedly beat him to it.

First stop, Sagrada Familia, the Gaudi designed temple which 100 plus years on is still a construction site. How it got started under Gaudi in the first place is mystery to me? Those town planners and church elders must have been imbibing some serious liquor to pass that one through, but luckily they did or we would not have had the opportunity to wander beneath the cranes and take it all in. Amazing – yes. Wacky – well yes. Interesting – very. Finished – uhmmm not quite but the plan is to get it all wrapped up by 2030 give or take a year or two.

Then Park Guell – because you can never have too much Gaudi. We hopped on the Metro and spent an afternoon people watching and being watched, taking the sun and checking out this amazing space – like something from a childhood fantasy materialised.

And the beach, it reminded me of Perth, one of those nice long sandy beaches. There were even a few tiny waves to splash about in. A couple of dozen surfers in wetsuits frolicked about optimistically in the wash waiting for the next big wave to arrive; it never did – this is the Mediterranean after all.

It would be hard to visit Barcelona and not visit the Picasso Museum. He is the master of the brushstroke – no bull.

The Barcelonans are linguistically capable, able to switch effortlessly from their native Catalan, to English and even occasionally Spanish without batting an eyelid. They were quick to warn us about the dangerous Ramblas; getting our bags and wallets snatched … they’d have to be quick … because we managed to spend it quicker than they could steal it, but it was worth it.

Sagrada Familia under construction

And were going to finish this thing when?

Random street art

More random street art

A day at the beach

Post lunch siesta

Playing in the sand
More Gaudi
Catalan dancing shoes

Park Guell – Gaudi revisited